Uniscon document exchange service uses two-factor authentication, stores no passwords

Uniscon's IDgard, a service for securely exchanging documents between companies and their clients or partners, uses two-factor authentication and stores only its customers' encrypted data on the server, with no passwords or hashes for hackers to steal.

As if that weren't enough, the company takes elaborate precautions to ensure that no-one can gain physical access to the servers on which IDgard runs while unencrypted data is held in RAM, said CEO Ralf Rieken said at the Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany.

IDgard runs on Uniscon's own secure cloud infrastructure, Sealed Cloud, in which the cabinets housing the servers can only be unlocked remotely, one shelf at a time. If a machine needs maintenance, a technician receives instructions via mobile phone. When the technician is ready, a remote management console migrates the server's workload to one on another shelf, then powers down the server needing maintenance to wipe unencrypted data from its memory before unlocking the door to that shelf. When the server is powered up again, its software is verified by the Trusted Platform Module before booting to ensure that no malware has been introduced, said Rieken.

Sealed Cloud is Uniscon's response to a German government request for proposals under its Trusted Cloud initiative. Its goal is to ensure that customers can trust the infrastructure even when they don't physically control it.

Organizations that need to share or collaborate on documents securely with partners or clients are IDgard's target business market. A consumer version of IDgard is already available. Pricing for the new service starts at ¬49.95 (US$65) a month for an admin license, five employee licenses and 100 customer licenses. The customer licenses allow employees to invite external users to temporarily access documents in the service. Additional customer licenses cost ¬0.20 per month, less than the cost of a postage stamp, Rieken said.

A number of things make IDgard more secure than competing services, according to Rieken. First, there are no user names or passwords stored on the servers for hackers to steal and crack. Users do log in with a user name and password, but these are used to generate an encryption key. The server then tries this key against the documents stored in its database, unlocking only those documents created by the same user. Hackers could conceivably steal the entire encrypted database, said Rieken, but to crack the keys they would have to try a brute force attack on massive quantities of data, which is simply impractical.

Uniscon offers optional two-factor authentication, either by SMS or using a token to generate one-time pass codes. There's no subscription fee for the tokens: Uniscon charges ¬20 per card, which can be used until the battery runs out, typically after about three years, said Rieken.

Finally, there's the use of encrypted connections between the client software and the Sealed Cloud servers, which ensure that the only place the unencrypted data can be accessed is in the client itself.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

Tags Internet-based applications and servicesAccess control and authenticationUnisconMailencryptionManaged Servicesinternetcloud computingprivacyInfrastructure servicescebitsecurity

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Peter Sayer

IDG News Service

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